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VZCZCXR054 1 1 
DE RUEHMIL #0021/01 0480715 
P 170715Z FEB 10 



E.O. 12958: DECL : 02/15/2020 


Classified By: Consul General Carol Z. Perez for reasons 1.4(b 

I. 1 . SUMMARY: (SBU) Heading into the March 2 8-2 9 regional 
elections, the political landscape in the Veneto, one of 
Italy's most politically and economically important regions, 
displays a dominant center-right coalition headed by a 
Northern League (LN) candidate and a weak and disorganized 
center-left opposition. The Northern League party is strong 
and growing stronger both in relation to the opposition and 
within its center-right coalition, due to increasing popular 
support for hard-line positions on security and immigration; 
the election of LN Agricultural Minister Luca Zaia as the 
region's next president is a foregone conclusion. The 
outcome of the regional election in the Veneto and elsewhere 
could change the balance of power between the LN and Popolo 
della Libert (Pdl), Prime Minister Berlusconi's ruling 
party. In contrast to the center-right's strong and unified 
front, the center-left opposition is in disarray. In 
addition to its almost certain loss in the upcoming regional 
contest, the center-left Democratic Party (PD) faces the 
potential loss of the mayorship of Venice, a position that it 
has held for over twenty years. 

Northern League: Strong Venetian Roots, and Growing Stronger 

J. 2 . (SBU) With gubernatorial elections coming up on March 
28-29, the Northern League (LN) party is in an extremely 
strong position in the economically and politically important 
Veneto region, both within its center-right coalition and 
vis — vis the center-left opposition. The center-right 
coalition has chosen an LN candidate, current Agriculture 
Minister Luca Zaia, to stand for election next month and 
officials from both the center-right and from the 
center-left, composed primarily of the Democratic Party (PD), 
agree that the LN has outmaneuvered its opponents in the 
region, reading the popular mood and appealing to an 
ever-broadening segment of the electorate. 

13. (SBU) Crucial to the LN ' s regional appeal is its 
connection to the territory and its use of a unique, 
sometimes crude political rhetoric that appeals to Veneto 
voters. Home to the historically powerful and independent 
city-state of Venice, the Veneto maintains an identity that 
is proud of its achievements, especially in the economic 
realm, and is wary of outside interference. Northern League 
founder and leader Umberto Bossi has successfully parlayed 
the LN ' s flagship issue, fiscal federalism, into a broader 
platform of security and protection from outside threats, 
linking the rise in immigration with crime, unemployment, and 
a general degradation of Italian cultural identity. This 
political formula holds continued appeal for the LN ' s 
traditional electoral base, the small- and medium-sized 
business owners who make up the economic fabric of the 
Veneto, but this savvy platform fusing fiscal federalism and 
immigration has also had growing resonance with workers, a 
traditionally leftist bloc, whom LN leaders assert no longer 

and (d) 

feel ""protected"" by the PD and other parties. The LN has 
made an increasingly convincing argument that unfairly high 
taxes imposed by Rome put people out of business and that 
immigrant workers take Italian jobs. Recently this second 
claim has been especially compelling, given the ever higher 
number of immigrants arriving in the Veneto and the global 
economic crisis, which has led to many job losses in the 
Veneto . 

T_4 . (SBU) LN rhetoric about immigration ranges from slightly 
protectionist to overtly xenophobic, and the LN has 
successfully linked immigrants to crime in the minds of an 
increasingly large swath of voters. LN policies at the local 
levels often focus on expelling illegal immigrants and 
""cleaning up"" the often run-down neighborhoods in which they 
live - measures that citizens often perceive, in practical 
terms, as cleaning up the streets, reducing crime, and 
generally improving the quality of life. The opposition 
refutes the logic behind these measures as well as claims 
about their effectiveness, but even they admit that on the 
issue of security, the Northern League is king. A PD 
official from the city of Treviso noted that economic 
insecurity in Italy is the more salient issue, especially in 
the recent downturn, but that the LN has seized on physical 
security as its issue, which is easier to explain to voters, 
and has translated it into political gain. 

Party of the People - and the Young 

15. (SBU) Although many LN leaders would be reluctant to admit 
it, the Northern League in the Veneto draws heavily from 
Italy, s former communist tradition and has retained that 
close, grass-roots connection to the electorate; supporters 
across the region refer glowingly to the LN as the only 

MILAN 00000021 002 OF 003 

""party of the masses"" and ""party of the people"" currently 
the country. The LN has continued to expand its physical 
presence with numerous, accessible party offices and outposts 
that also double as community centers. LN leaders and voters 
alike boast that their mayors and councilmen are always out 
and about, talking to people and maintaining a personal 
relationship with their constituents - practicing what hugely 
popular Verona mayor Flavio Tosi has termed ""supermarket 
politics."" The LN,s pervasive reputation for good public 
administration seems to stem directly from this 
responsiveness, accessibility, and visibility. Furthermore - 
largely due to its strong physical presence and proactive 
outreach in the region - the Northern League has successfully 
courted the youth vote and seems to be making great progress 
in cultivating the next generation of LN voters. A Treviso 
Pd official said that in 2009 he organized a visit to 
Strasbourg for area teens to learn more about the EU 
Parliament, the first arranged by the region, s Democratic 
Party in 15 years; over the same period, however, the 
Northern League has organized multiple similar trips per 
year . 

Democratic Party Struggling for Coherence, Votes, and Venice 

11.6 . (SBU) In contrast to the Northern League, s rise, the 
center-left in Veneto is struggling to put forward a cohesive 
platform and communicate a strong party identity to the 
electorate. The party is suffering from a declining share of 
the vote, and its loss in March, s race for the regional 
presidency is virtually assured. The Pd,s choice for 
gubernatorial candidate displays the party, s internal 
weakness and identity crisis; Venice city councilman Giuseppe 
Bortolussi is far from a typical Democrat, with an 
ideologically independent bent and a conservative, 
pro-business stance. Bortolussi - who, well before the 
announcement of his candidacy, told us that he did not want 
to run, but would ""obey"" if his party, s leadership asked him 
to - has for over thirty years served as the director of the 
region, s largest union of small- and medium-size business 
owners. In this capacity he has often led the charge against 

higher taxes and central government interference, the LN,s 
traditional political territory, and has clashed openly with 
center-left governments headed by Pd Prime Ministers Prodi 
and D,Alema. The PD,s obvious attempt to challenge the 
center-right on its own terrain and appeal to the largest 
possible electorate is not likely to succeed. 

VI. (SBU) Another potential blow to the center-left would be 
the loss of the mayorship of Venice (which also holds 
elections in late March). While not particularly important 
politically, the city of Venice still has enormous cultural 
and social significance, and it has for over twenty years 
been a center-left stronghold. Outgoing PD mayor Massimo 
Cacciari has already served three terms in total, and the 
center-left candidate, elderly lawyer and former city 
councilman Giorgio Orsoni, is in a close race with the 
popular Minister of Public Administration Renato Brunetta 
(from Silvio Berlusconi's Popolo della Liberta party). 
Brunetta 1 s mayoral run could be hurt by his stated desire to 
continue serving as a cabinet minister even if elected, but 
he remains a very popular figure among Venetians, and the 
race is definitely open. 

1[8 . (SBU) According to PD officials in the region, the 
party, s main problem lies in its inability to articulate a 
platform and its lack of organization, not in the quality of 
its governance. A PD official from Verona highlighted recent 
achievements by numerous PD mayors throughout the Veneto, but 
admitted that the party has been ineffective in communicating 
its successes to the electorate and translating them into 
votes. The party has also struggled to explain itself to 
voters in the region, a communication failure that has 
allowed the LN to take the mantle of ""reform"" from the PD. 
Additionally, unlike the LN, the PD has not built a robust 
physical presence, further removing it from the electorate 
and particularly the next generation of young voters . 

Lastly, despite several particularly talented Veneto PD 
politicians, the party has not successfully drawn the link to 
the territory that the LN has so masterfully done. Regional 
PD officials stressed that tying its platform more closely to 
the specific Veneto terrain is critical to any future level 
of success in the region. The PD failed to inherit the 
structure of the Italian Communist Party or the Christian 
Democrats - the parties from which it descended - and after a 
series of failures on the national and regional level, has 
struggled to set new roots down. 

Comment: Jockeying for Power within the Ruling Coalition 

1I_9 . (C) Because the center-right , s victory in the regional 
race is essentially assured, the real contest in the Veneto 
is within the majority coalition, between the Northern League 
and Prime Minister Berlusconi, s ruling Popolo della Libert 
(Pdl). While they are allies in the coalition, their 
relationship at the regional level and below is often tense, 
and the two parties display very different positions, 

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platforms, and political styles. While the LN has been strong 
in the Veneto for some time, this election cycle could be the 
first time that it actually overtakes the Pdl in the region; 
a recent poll conducted by northern Italian polling firm SWG 
predicts the LN will receive 33 percent of the vote, while 
the Pdl stands around 27 percent. While polls are imperfect 
predictors, the numbers are still striking to those both 
within and outside of the majority coalition. Because the 
parties in the winning coalition will divvy up positions 
based on the percentage of votes they have received, the LN 
is pushing to secure as many important regional political 
posts as possible. Additionally, the result of the regional 
elections in the Veneto and other Italian regions could shift 
the balance of power between the LN and Berlusconi, s Pdl at 
the national government level. In times of political 
weakness or vulnerability Berlusconi has already had to give 
concessions to LN government leaders in order to win support 
for his personal legislative agenda. With a strong enough 
showing in the March elections, and without a solid 

opposition to block such measures, the LN could be in an even 
more powerful position to influence Italian national policy 
and assert its own security-based, anti-immigrant political 

11_10. (U) This cable has been cleared by Embassy Rome.